CPLC members say proposed EPA risk management rule doesn’t go far enough

[Photo: Goir-Canva]

Waukegan, Gurnee, and other municipalities in Lake County, Illinois, are surrounded by dangerous chemicals, like ethylene oxide (EtO). We know it is up to us to push for further protections.

That’s why members of Clean Power Lake County spoke out last week during public Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings on a proposed update to the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. The update would partially restore critical chemical facility safety standards that were rolled back in 2019 by the Trump administration. It also proposes—for the first time ever—to require regulated facilities to account for the accelerating impacts of climate change.

Whitney Richardson, a member of Clean Power Lake County, shared her concerns: 

I’m a mother, wife, daughter, human rights and environment researcher, legislative professional, and community member. The nearest RMP facility from me is 3 miles away in Mundelein, Illinois, but there are many others in Lake County where I live—like Waukegan and Gurnee—and where many friends and family live within the state and nationally. 

I’m here today to urge the EPA to take responsibility on behalf of all and require that facilities do all that is in your power to prevent chemical disasters and protect all those at risk in the event of a disaster, taking into account the dire need to prepare for guaranteed climate-driven extreme weather events and power loss.

Already, I understand that about 150 serious chemical disasters occur at RMP facilities annually, leading to deaths, injuries, and other harms. There are many current climate-change scenarios panning out and future scenarios to come—both in which we know climate change poses certain risks, though the degree to which is still unknown. It is not only prudent but incredibly necessary to anticipate and protect against worst-case scenarios in the face of such uncertainty. 

EPA must require implementation of external hazard mitigation and backup power systems. We already know that one-third of RMP facilities are located in areas at risk of flooding, storm surges, and wildfires so the rule must require facilities to consider and protect against these scenarios and concurrent risks like power outages. 

The EPA should also account for cumulative health impacts of these facilities on communities overburdened with multiple polluting facilities, strengthen prevention requirements so harm to communities doesn’t predicate action, include workers in disaster prevention planning, and expand coverage of the program no later than next year (e.g., redefining “stationary source” definition, expanding list of covered substances to include ammonium nitrate and other reactive chemicals involved in crises).

Oftentimes, the focus on protecting against climate change—and hazards more generally—is cast into the future. This dangerously overlooks our responsibilities today to address already present and known issues and to take the necessary actions to prevent and reduce serious risks into the future. 

Here’s how you can help! 

It is up to us to push for further protections. You can help: Email your comments to www.regulations.gov/document/EPA-HQ-OLEM-2022-0174-0003 through October 31, 2022.

Email cplc@cleanpowerlakecounty.org for background materials (courtesy of our friends at Coming Clean Inc.) that can help you prepare your comments.